Apps Vs. Docs

Wednesday October 24, 2012.

There’s a line we can draw down the middle of digital content. On one side, we have the apps. Native apps, HTML5 apps, Flash, whatever. On the other side, we have documents; pieces of information, well formatted and neatly presented (hopefully).


Docs are what most of the web is based on. Informational pages, location & contact details details, menus etc. When you Google something, you’re looking for a doc. This is an important observation to remember. Docs need to be findable, readable, search engine friendly, bookmarkable and of course, mobile friendly. It’s less important now than it has been in the past, but it’s a good idea to make sure your docs print well too (it makes you look good).

Publish documents for

  • Occasional or single use information.
  • Not necessarily updated as often as apps.
  • Information is a first class citizen & is required quickly.
  • When an archive needs to be maintained.
  • Cross platform distribution of content and readable content.


Apps are the heavy lifters of the web. The greatest apps are task driven, pleasantly interactive, efficient and focused. Apps are commonly used to perform regularly repeated tasks, such as viewing photos, sending and retrieving messages and updating social data. The thing to remember with apps is that they require an investment in time on behalf of the customer, be it downloading a native app from a store or signing up to a web app. This is why building to deliver single-use content is rarely a good idea.

Build apps for

  • Streamable data. Where information is commonly updated.
  • Rich experience (and where the experience is part of the product).
  • Situations where state or user accounts must be maintained

In Short

Different types of content and media lend themselves to being delivered as a series of docs or an app. Correctly identifying which of these your audience expects is going to make a big difference to the effectiveness of what you’re publishing. If your audience wants information, give it to them in the most frictionless way or they’ll get it from someone else who will.

Comments? Questions?

Comments or feedback via appreciated via @linkthief